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5 Qs, 5 As: Carson Wentz, Andre Dillard, and the worst WR in the NFL

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New England Patriots v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks and Philadelphia Eagles have met four times since Pete Carroll arrived in 2010:

Seahawks 31, Eagles 14

Seahawks 24, Eagles 14

Seahawks 26, Eagles 15

Seahawks 24, Eagles 10

With the way they are currently playing, Seattle at 8-2 and Philadelphia at 5-5 and inconsistently tumbling through the season thanks to some of the worst receiver play we’ve ever seen and a defense that doesn’t seem nearly as good in the traditional results as they are in DVOA, you’d think the result might follow suit with the previous four.

But we also know that the Seahawks have enjoyed just one victory that wasn’t close and that the Eagles are less than two years removed with many of the same players and coaches who won a Super Bowl shortly after that latest Seattle two-touchdown victory.

Both teams need a win to try and catch up with the first place team in the division. Both teams have areas of strength and weaknesses that could boost or bite them in the end. Both teams have blogs at SB Nation.

To prove that last point, I sent five Qs to Brandon Lee Gowton of the impressively powerful Eagles blog Bleeding Green Nation, and in return he sent me five corresponding As with a bonus. Yes, with a bonus. Yes, that bonus.

Q: I had the Eagles going to the Super Bowl when the season started but now I really can’t get a grip on them. Who can! But despite a 5-5 record, they are 11th on offense and 6th on defense for DVOA and they’ve seemingly shown up in the last three games, allowing 44 points to the Patriots, Bears, and Bills. Defensively, did anything change after a 37-10 loss to the Cowboys in Week 7 and is it something we should be watching for this Sunday?

A: Allow me to help you get a grip (that reads much harsher than intended): the Eagles are a boringly average team. They’re 5-5 and 16 in point differential. They’re 15-13 since winning the Super Bowl and they were 16th overall in DVOA last year (16th offense, 15th defense, 15th special teams). I’d argue they’re perfectly mediocre.

But yeah, the defense has shown signs of improvement over the last three weeks. The question is: how much of that was facing Josh Allen, Mitchell Trubisky, and a kinda washed up Tom Brady? Because I don’t think the quarterbacks played great in those games independent of what the Eagles’ defense was doing. I have my doubts that Jim Schwartz’s unit is suddenly going to lock up Russell Wilson, especially given his struggles with defending the Seahawks quarterback in the past. Wilson has accounted for eight total touchdowns and zero turnovers in three career games against Philly.

I do think the defense getting Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby has helped. Those two were the starting cornerbacks for the majority of the Eagles’ Super Bowl season. They have their flaws, no doubt, but they’re significant upgrades on Rasul Douglas and Sidney Jones (now a healthy scratch). Mills and Darby at least bring some level of competency to the position.

The Eagles’ pass rush has also been coming on. They most recently made Brady look pretty uncomfortable by sacking him once and hitting him six times. Again, I don’t know how much an improved pass rush means going up against Wilson, who always seems to negate Philly’s ability to generate pressure.

Q: Carson Wentz has limited his turnovers this season (4 picks in 10 games) but the Eagles are 0-3 when he does throw an interception. Despite some decent stats and games, Wentz is middle of the pack in advanced stats (DYAR, DVOA) and he’s got just 6.5 Y/A over his last seven games with a passer rating of 91.5 at a time when the good quarterbacks all seem to be over 100. Is Philly’s passing offense struggling almost exclusively because of the bad receivers and injuries to that group that we keep hearing about or is the book still out on Carson Wentz? Should he be praised for his efforts this season or critiqued for being a part of the problem?

A: I hardly think Wentz is blameless. There’s room for improvement. He needs to be more accurate. He needs to stop pressing.

But one would be remiss to suggest the Eagles’ abysmal wide receiver situation hasn’t significantly impacted him this year. Wentz has had to deal with some of the most drops in the league. And it’s not just about the amount of drops but the situations they’ve occurred. They’ve often been very high leverage drops, such as when Nelson Agholor let a potential game-winner slip right through his fingers in Week 2. Or when JJ Arcega-Whiteside dropped another potential game-winner in Week 3. Or when Agholor dropped at least a game-tying touchdown against the Patriots just this past Sunday.

These killer drops aren’t ever cancelled out by Wentz’s receivers making incredible plays on the ball. Rather, it’s just the opposite. The Eagles’ receivers make the routine look impossible. It’s incredibly frustrating to watch.

Drops are hardly the only issue. With DeSean Jackson hurt, the Eagles have no real deep threat. Agholor is the closest player to fitting the bill but he’s demonstrated that he’s downright awful at tracking the ball in the air. The rest of the Eagles’ offense is incredibly slow and plodding and doesn’t belong in the year 2019. This team just isn’t very fast at all.

Wentz looked pretty great when he had Jackson to work with in Week 1. The offense hasn’t really been able to overcome his absence. The front office deserves a lot of blame for not coming up with a viable contingency plan. The coaching staff deserves blame for failing to get the most of the receivers they have. Wentz deserves blame for not being as sharp as he possibly could be despite a less than ideal supporting cast. There’s blame to share and everyone is culpable.

Q: Philly went into the year with a fearsome pass rush unit, including Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Timmy Jernigan, and Vinny Curry, with hopeful contributions from guys like Josh Sweat and Hassan Ridgeway. (And Malik Jackson, who went on IR almost immediately.) The result is mediocre. Graham has 6 sacks, Cox has 2.5 sacks and 5 QB hits after posting 10.5 and 34(!) last season. 25 sacks as a team doesn’t sound too bad and as I said, 6th on defense overall, but what’s the theory on the lack of individual production from some of these guys, especially Cox? Barnett, for example, has 14 QB hits but only 3.5 sacks, giving him just 11 career sacks as he approaches the end of year three.

A: The Eagles’ pass rush got off to a real slow start this season; they only had three sacks in their first four games. They’ve since improved with 22 sacks in their last six games, though 10 came against Luke Falk in Week 5.

Cox’s lack of production stems back to the foot injury he suffered in last season’s Divisional Round loss to the New Orleans Saints. Cox missed the entire offseason and didn’t take a single practice rep until the week leading up the Eagles’ first regular season game. He just hasn’t been anything close to 100%.

Barnett’s also been playing through an injury that traces back to last season. He hasn’t been listed on the injury report lately but the coaching staff has referred to him being less than 100% as well.

Getting back to Cox, he’s also had to deal with increased attention since teams haven’t had reason to fear the defensive tackles lining up next to him. Malik Jackson’s injury hurt in this regard but it wasn’t just him. Top backup defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan got hurt in Week 2 and didn’t return until Week 9. Then Hassan Ridgeway had to go on injured reserve. The Eagles have been in a situation where their top three defensive tackle were Cox and two undrafted rookie free agents who were signed off practice squads mid-season (Anthony Rush and Albert Huggins).

One would hope the likes of Cox and Barnett can get healthier and more effective as they’re further removed from their injuries. An improved secondary also figures to help the pass rush.

Q: Few teams have a backup tackle -- or backup any position -- with the potential of Andre Dillard. If Lane Johnson (concussion protocol) can’t go this week, what’s the report on Dillard after the offseason and through this season so far? As a Washington State alumni myself, how hopeful should I be that this is a future perennial Pro Bowler?

A: Dillard didn’t play much until he was forced into action when starting left tackle Jason Peters got hurt in Week 6. The rookie first-round pick had some struggles against the Vikings and Cowboys but he showed improvement against the Bills and Bears. Khalil Mack notably had a quiet game going up against Dillard, which is great sign for the Eagles moving forward. Dillard returned to the bench last week since Peters was healthy enough to play but now the rookie blocker will likely be playing at right tackle this week. It’ll be a big challenge for him considering he didn’t really get reps at right tackle in the offseason; the Eagles have been solely focusing on grooming him to replace Peters as soon as 2020.

Tough to definitively say he has Pro Bowl potential at this point but the early returns are encouraging. Dillard’s in a good situation to succeed. Jeff Stoutland is great offensive line coach and Peters — a sure-fire future Hall of Famer — couldn’t be a better mentor to learn from. Dillard should only benefit from having a full NFL offseason to work on his strength, which has been one of his notable weaknesses to this point. He’s been susceptible to getting beat by the bull rush.

I’m optimistic about Dillard’s outlook.

Q: Nelson Agholor and JJ Arcega-Whiteside are objectively two of the worst receivers in the NFL this season. Alshon Jeffery was out for the last game and not playing super well before that. DeSean Jackson is on injured reserve. Mack Hollins is maybe on the same level as Arcega-Whiteside, actually. Jordan Matthews started his season last week basically, catching 1 of 6 passes for 6 yards against the Patriots. This is a question, I swear, not just cruel and unusual punishment. If the Eagles are down 6 points in the fourth quarter (or I mean, in any quarter, at any point, in any situation in this game), who the hell do you want Wentz to throw to besides Zach Ertz? If Seattle is doing an adequate job on Ertz and Dallas Goedert, is there a single receiver on this team that you’re hopeful to see get more targets?

A: I’d just like to note that Agholor is THE worst wide receiver in the NFL by both Pro Football Focus and Football Outsiders metrics. Also by my eye test.

And, dang, that’s a really good way to put it. Uh … well, I don’t want Agholor seeing any more targets for the Eagles ever again in my life, to be honest. Jeffery might not play this week but if he is out there, it’s probably him despite his struggles. If Jeffery isn’t out there, I’m going with Arcega-Whiteside. The Eagles’ 2019 second-rounder has very much been underutilized to this point. The coaching staff clearly doesn’t trust him considering how they had Matthews played more snaps (64) than JJAW has in his last seven games combined (63). And JMatt was only re-signed two weeks ago on the bye.

Man. The Eagles’ receiver situation is just so incredibly depressing. It’s a huge reason why I’m having a hard time feeling good about this team’s outlook. It’s a passing league and the Eagles just don’t have any receivers worth a damn right now.

Bonus: Have you heard of Michael Dickson? Some people don’t like this question, but I still do.

A: How could I not know about “the Aaron Donald of college punters”? His drop kick kickoff against the Bears caught my attention my last year.

(I’m retiring the Michael Dickson question this week.)